I wouldn’t be surprised if George Zimmerman’s self-defense claim prevails.
The broken nose and bruises on his head, combined with the contradictory eyewitness testimony, probably will introduce enough uncertainty for jurors to conclude that Zimmerman’s decision to use his handgun to kill the unarmed Trayvon Martin might fall short of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard for a conviction.
But there are illuminations from this case that go beyond the narrow parameters of this criminal trial. Things that are harder to justify. Here are a couple:
Too many sketchy characters in Florida are permitted to carry guns
Zimmerman was one of them. Despite being arrested for battery on a law-enforcement officer and the subject of a domestic-violence restraining order, he was one of the 1 million Floridians who was licensed to carry a concealed handgun in public.
If Florida’s leaders were less interested in promoting the gun industry, applicants like Zimmerman would be denied permits.
And if Zimmerman were unarmed that night, he probably would have stayed in his vehicle, as the police dispatcher told him to do, after he had phoned in his suspicions about Martin.
But instead, Zimmerman got out with his loaded gun to confront the teenager, who was not “up to no good,” as Zimmerman had concluded. Whatever happened during that confrontation, the end was not in dispute: An unarmed 17-year-old kid who was just trying to walk to his father’s house was killed.
Putting guns in the hands of hotheads, and making them feel entitled to use them in public to resolve otherwise nonlethal encounters is a recipe for disaster.
Just ask the survivors of the two janitors at Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr. School of the Arts in West Palm Beach.
The janitors had to work with Javier Burgos, a fellow janitor with a history of anger issues that had gone on for years. Burgos, who has disappeared after the shooting deaths of two of his colleagues last month, was another concealed-weapons permit-holder sanctioned by the state.
When police searched his home, they found at least 14 firearms and a backpack full of ammunition. All legal. And all in the hands of a guy who routinely scared his coworkers.
Racism is alive and thriving in America
During the trial, I received a viral email that purported to tell me what Trayvon Martin really looked like.
“In reality, ‘little Trayvon’ at the time of his death stood almost 6’2” tall and weighed 175 muscular pounds,” the email read.
It was accompanied by a photo of a muscular black man with facial and neck tattoos glaring at the camera. The photo was supposed to show the real Martin.
The email, according to the debunking Snopes.com website, has been circulating for 14 months. The person in the photo is not the teenage Martin, but a 33-year-old former gang member-turned-rapper named Jayceon Terrell Taylor.
The real Martin, according to the autopsy report, was 5-foot-11 and 158 pounds and had no facial or neck tattoos.
So what gives? Why are so many people willing and eager to turn Martin into a bigger, stronger menacing-looking person nearly double his real age? Why does vile stuff like this go viral on the Internet?
The same mistake that Zimmerman made in assuming that Martin was up to no good is being echoed by a country full of other Zimmermans who need to turn the dead teenager into a menacing thug who deserved being killed that night.
There wouldn’t be fake photos of Trayvon Martin making him look like an adult he-man if he were white. And there wouldn’t be a nation of people so willing to buy into that fiction, either.
The verdict in this case is that a black teenager minding his own business ended up dead, and it had a lot to do with guns and racism.
Whatever the jury decides won’t change that.